The East Hampton Town Board voted unanimously, with little fanfare, Thursday evening to go ahead with the lengthy and costly process of applying to the Federal Aviation Administration for noise relief at the town’s municipal airport in Wainscott.
The process, which consultants believe would take two to three years, involves the preparation of a Part 161 Study under the 1990 Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA), allowing the town to set very specific regulations to control noisy aircraft.
While the town’s aviation counsel, Bill O’Connor of the firm Morrison Foerster, has said the application, all told, would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, the town board’s resolution Thursday increased the airport’s budget line for outside counsel by just $100,000 this year to pay to begin the Part 161 process.
Only one airport, Naples Municipal Airport in Naples, Fla., has been successful in its attempt to enact noise restrictions under ANCA in the past 27 years since the law was enacted, and six other airports have either been denied relief or have given up after beginning the lengthy process.
But East Hampton representatives believe the town is in a unique position.
East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the town board’s liaison to the airport, and the town’s aviation attorneys and consultants held a day-long session of meetings with airport stakeholders and the press on Monday, Sept. 18, in advance of a presentation of the town’s ANCA options at the town board’s Sept. 19 work session.
“HTO is in a unique circumstance, where you don’t have large commercial carriers,” said Bill O’Connor of the town’s aviation counsel, Morrison Foerster, at the Sept. 18 session. He added that the town also has data and studies from the time before, during and after its restrictions were in place last year before being shot down by a federal appeals court because they were not enacted through the formal ANCA process.
Mr. O’Connor added that a federal judge “had deemed the curfews reasonable,” and the appeals court decision hadn’t refuted that position, it had stated instead that the town did not follow the correct process to enact those restrictions.
The Part 161 Study, which consultants believe the town could complete by late 2018, requires that six conditions be met, including that the restrictions be reasonable and nondiscriminatory, that they not cause an unreasonable burden on interstate or foreign commerce, that they not conflict with U.S. law, that adequate time is provided for public comment, and that they do not place an unreasonable burden on the national aviation system.
The town has not yet decided on what type of noise restrictions to enact, but Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said at the Sept. 18 meeting that “All stakeholders will have a seat at the table.”
The town intends to select a consultant to draft the study by December of this year, followed by drafting of the restrictions by March of 2018, with the study complete by August 2018.
Afterward, the town is required to allow 45 days for public comment before revising their application and submitting it to the FAA, which they’re hoping to do in November of 2018. Once the FAA deems the application complete, it has up to 180 days to decide whether to approve the restrictions.